Prague is breathtaking. This glittering city is picture postcard perfect in every way. From the historic Charles bridge that leads the way to the city's medieval Old Town core, to grand views of the Vltava River, from narrow cobbled lanes lined with pubs and restaurants, to steep stairs leading up, up, up to heaven, from tall church spires dotting the skyline to sprawling castle complexes, this city has it all, including some really good food!
One of the very touristy things to do in Prague is to stand around in front of the famous Astronomical Clock and admire the moving statues which pop out every hour. Tourists have been engaging in this activity since 1410 when the clock was first built, and so did we!
When we set out to explore Prague's old world charm, we quickly realized that it would involve a lot of walking up and down Prague's famous sloping streets......
And climbing a lot of steps!
Luckily we often came upon hidden little nooks with pubs and cafés within, to rest our aching feet and sample delightful little cakes and pastries. One memorable discovery was a pub restaurant in the basement of a monastary, run entirely by monks. They made the beer in house and created fabulous dishes cooked with beer. Our favourites were the house smoked meats and beer braised goulash, all washed down with more of their excellent beer.
If you happen to be in Prague around Easter, like we were, you can stroll through the bustling Easter market held in the Old Town Square. Part food fair, part souvenirs and kitschy handicraft stalls, it is great fun to explore.
And if you are lucky, you will catch the action on stage where dancers in traditional costume, along with singers and musicians entertain the crowds with live performances.
Make sure to sample some of the traditional fare on offer such as fire roasted doughnuts, spit roasted ham, grilled sausages, crepes, local beer and so much more. One of my favourites were the fire roasted doughnuts called Trdelník. Generously basted with butter as they rotate and cook over an open fire to a golden crust, they are given a final dusting of cinnamon, sugar and finely chopped nuts, making them completely irresistible. We couldn't stop eating them!
One of the foods you will come across everywhere in Prague is goulash. A rich, slow simmered stew, it is generally made with beef, paprika and onions, with a bit of beer or wine sometimes added in for depth. Originally from Hungary, it is said to have been created by the Gulyás, the cow herdsmen who cooked up a rustic version in a large cauldron set over an open fire. The ingredients that they had at hand - wild onions, herbs and beef are still the basis for this age old stew, that is now popular all over Eastern Europe and beyond.
Goulash being one of the best known and best loved of all Czech dishes, we wanted to try lots of it in Prague! It seemed that everywhere we tasted it, the chef had his own interpretation of how to cook it. Sometimes it came simmered in a rich, dark beer based sauce, other times it was thin, soupy and not as flavourful.
Czech goulash almost always never has any vegetables in it, focusing instead on the rich, meaty taste of beef, generally washed down with large tankards of local beer.
Goulash is usually served with bread dumplings called Knedlíky, the perfect sponge for sopping up the delicious sauce!
Bacon is key in this recipe, adding subtle smoky notes to the finished dish. You can add vegetables such as potatoes, carrots or sweet peppers to the goulash to make it more hearty and filling. I sometimes pair it with crusty bread, although the traditional way of course, is to have sliced bread dumplings with it.
2 tbsp butter
2 medium cooking onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 slices bacon, chopped
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
2 lb boneless stewing beef, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup each: red wine, beef broth
Salt to taste
1 tsp each: toasted & ground caraway seeds (or cumin), smoked hot Spanish paprika, sweet Hungarian paprika, marjoram (or oregano), sugar
1 cup canned premium whole plum tomatoes with puree (about 6), crushed lightly
2 tbsp each, finely chopped: fresh parsley, onion
Melt butter in deep heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, bacon, thyme and bay leaf. Saute 10 min until bacon is cooked down and onions are softened.
Add beef cubes and brown them lightly for about 5 min. Add flour and cook 1 min. Deglaze pan with wine. Cook 2 min until it starts to bubble, then add broth, salt, all the spices and sugar. Cook 1 min, then add tomatoes. Stir to mix, cover saucepan, and bring contents to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 hours until beef is very tender and sauce has thickened a bit, stirring occasionally.
Transfer to serving bowl, garnish with parsley and onion and serve.